Popular anthropology plays ‘broken telephone’

Popular anthropology in general follows the conscious and material paradigm of culture, particularly diffusion. Authors and readers assume the transfer of culture from ‘developed’ peoples to ‘savages’, as concluded by early schools of anthropology. De Santillana and Von Deschend (1969) were among many scientists who saw a problem in culture transfer: “Coincidence of details in cumulative thought, have led to the conclusion that it all had its origin in the Near East. It is evident that this indicates a diffusion of ideas to an extent hardly countenanced by current anthropology.” However most popular authors see no problem with diffusion. Even the two professors who criticised correspondence theories, presented myth as degraded science, or ‘broken telephone’ diffusion. They imply that better terminology, records, and transmission, would have delivered ancient Icelandic astronomy intact to the rest of the world. Of artefacts and buildings, De Santillana and Von Deschend wrote: “Original themes could flash out again, preserved almost intact, in the later thought of the Pythagoreans and of Plato… tantalising fragments of a lost whole.” Their premise is that a traumatic astronomical event or episode was recorded, mythologised, and gradually lost or scrambled. Thus culture is a sum of fragments. TS Eliot evokes the popular view of culture in his famous line: “These rags have I shored against my ruin.” Archaeologists also find the illustrations of myth in art to be “apparently fragmentary”. Spiritual elements in art are understood as hallucinations that are “construed in trance”, recalled, and “no doubt formalised as they were painted.” (Lewis-Williams and Pearce 2012). These fragments are the playground of popular science. Examples of the supposedly ‘lost whole’ are rare.
The range of views in popular anthropology could be summarised as a list of hypotheses on where culture comes from. Some views gain dominance in turn, each imposing its paradigm on science or culture, or both. Nature, gods, heroes, ancestors, evolution, technology, Phoenicians, subconscious, secret societies, aliens, mutants, astronomy, drugs, trance, or a super race? Some of these could be combined, some not……. [order the book Stoneprint, at $30 plus postage, from Four Equators Media, via edmond at syrex dot co dot za using Paypal]……..

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